Operation Porchetta: How Sara Jenkins Fed the Marines in Afghanistan

Feeding time.
Feeding time.

Early last month, Sara Jenkins, the chef-owner of the East Village sandwich shop Porchetta, got an e-mail order that took her by surprise. “Is there any way you could make a delivery to 300 marines in Afghanistan?” it read. The e-mail was signed by Master Sergeant Robert Bergmann of the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-40, Camp Bastion, who’d found Jenkins by Googling “best sandwich.” At first, Jenkins thought this was some kind of a joke. When she realized it wasn’t, she sprung into action. Sure, she had once FedExed a whole roast to a porchetta lunatic in Kentucky, but this was going to take a little doing. And it wasn’t going to come cheap.

After deciding that this was not the kind of order she felt comfortable charging for, Jenkins rallied her own troops. First, she called her meat purveyor, DeBragga and Spitler — they were happy to help. DeBragga, in turn, talked to Niman Ranch, which donated 150 pounds of pork. Jim Lahey at Sullivan St. Bakery provided ciabatta rolls. The National Pork Board pitched in.

Meanwhile, back at Camp Bastion, Master Sergeant Bergmann had arranged for FedEx to pick up the shipping tab. Then the Haiti earthquake struck and FedEx wasn’t able to deliver. “I thought it was over,” says Jenkins — no porchetta for the United States Marines. Undeterred, the Master Sergeant took his case to DHL, which was more than happy to oblige, and things were once again looking up. Jenkins and her crew got to work in the kitchen. They butchered the meat and cooked sixteen roasts, eight at a time. When the meat had cooled, they froze and Cryovac-ed it, packed it in coolers, and e-mailed KP-friendly instructions (“heat to internal temperature of 140 degrees, slice and serve some lean, some fatty, and some crispy skin together … go for about 6 ounces per sandwich”). Five weeks after Master Sergeant Bergmann’s unusual delivery order, the porchetta left New York for Afghanistan, and on February 17, the master sergeant sent Jenkins a follow-up: “Tomorrow, the Marines of MALS-40 will have a taste of the Big Apple, thanks to Sara Jenkins of Porchetta and team DHL … Semper Fidelis.”

So how was it? Judging by the e-mails flooding Jenkins’s in-box a couple days later, an unqualified success. One Major Gerald A. Cummings wrote: “Americans like you are the reason we are here … You brightened our day, taught our taste buds a culinary lesson, and raised our pride in our Country and the Americans supporting us.” And, according to Bergmann, “Every Marine I talked to said it was the best meal they’ve had in eleven months. Some have told me they are planning to make a special trip to NYC at the end of our deployment just to eat there and personally thank Sara” Then, with a critical flourish befitting a food blogger, he continued, “I have to admit, whether it be Afghanistan or the States — this sandwich stands out. The flavors and textures combine with that roll to be a superb combination.” Well, we always knew Jenkins’s product was delicious — now we know it travels well.